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How green is your trackwork?

You can’t open a paper or watch TV nowadays without the green issue cropping up. Not long ago, the Rainbow Warrior and Green Party were covered as minority, fringe stories. Now everyone is in on the act. Scientists educate us about global warming, politicians tell us to use low-energy light bulbs. Oh, and we should all fly less too. Although time is against us, the conclusion is that we can save the planet.

Back in the 1990s, the railway created green zones to separate staff from moving trains. The conclusion was that we could save lives. The principle was welcomed by the industry and seen as the way forward. But in 2007, from speaking with my on-track contacts and looking out of train windows, it seems that most work is still being done under red zone conditions. It’s hard to believe that the green zone initiative has reached anything like its full potential.

When Jarvis ran maintenance contracts, they had a Safety Check Number scheme (SCN) to validate a COSS’s safe system. An added advantage was that, at any time, the number of staff working red or green could be audited in real time, giving a minute-by-minute record of those with the advantage of better protection. The world was overwhelmingly red.

Other companies were bringing forward figures which looked fantastic but, frankly, were hard to believe. Some claimed green zone working at almost 100%. These were generally based on a 10% sample of completed COSS forms - hardly robust! So what did Network Rail do when they brought maintenance back in house? Roll out SCN across the country? No, they closed it down, claiming it was too expensive.
Other companies were bringing forward figures which looked fantastic but, frankly, were hard to believe.

And now we’re trying to run before we’ve learned to walk. The 2006 Railway Strategic Safety Plan came into being 18 months ago. Under the heading ‘Green Zones’, it states “The Thinking Strategically initiative was established in 2001 to reduce the exposure of trackworkers to risk. This thinking has led to a number of actions. The idea for track safety is to avoid the need for individuals to access the track at all.”

Given that the green zone initiative is stagnant, this big ‘idea’ - relocating equipment away from the track - looks like wishful thinking of the tallest order. Just what were those ‘number of actions’ and what practical benefit did they bring? Perhaps we can read a lot into the fact that this objective does not appear in the 2007-9 Plan.

Equipment should be located well clear of the line

So have things actually improved? How are green zone statistics gathered today? Fact is, we just don’t know but perhaps we can take a leaf out of the Conservative’s plans for air travel. Let’s limit trackworkers to one red zone per year and, after that, all others must be offset by planting a tree in the cess. Soon we’ll be able to replace the rainforests and have an endless, cheap supply of wooden sleepers!

It’s great to think that the rail industry was ahead of the green game back in 1994. I hope the Tories don’t end up looking greener than we do. Everyone agrees that trackworkers deserve better protection so now’s the time to push that bit harder.

Story added 1st May 2007

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